THERE ARE SOME phrases we hope never to utter. We all have them, and since they are unutterable I won’t list them, nope, except this one, which I can now say aloud, head raised, even making eye contact with another human, after a sister-stranger saved me, liberated me, and made me hold my red head up high and say: I cook for my dog.
I do. At least I do now, and while this month we are celebrating many things, in my house we’ve added the recognition that our dog is alive, now three years after a dreadful time.
His name is Otter, and somewhere around the beginning of November three years ago, he got sick and entered the hospital, where he stayed for 12 days, during which time I actually signed the papers to put him down, including the receipt for cremation, only now to have him safely back home.
None of the tumult was Otter’s fault. He didn’t get a chicken bone. It wasn’t my fault. He didn’t get a chocolate or a piece of sugarless gum.
Climate change has brought along so very many alterations to our lives that the list of those things is too long to type, though high among those changes are pools of standing water in northern New York State that now harbor Leptospirosis where it was never seen before; ticks that carry Anaplasmosis; and dogs who get both illnesses and simply die.
Four dogs in my neighborhood keeled over in the same week with Anaplasmosis. I live in a place where we had no ticks until a few years ago. Now they blow in the wind and even this far upstate in New York, I find them in my house.
I am a fool for my dogs. I sing to my dog, and consult with him on every aspect of our days together.
The first morning after his first night in the hospital, at home, I whipped off my nightgown, stuffed it into my purse and took it with me to visit him, sticking it under the head he could barely raise. My daughter’s shirt came too, making a pillow we hoped might remind him of what he had to live for. I crawled in the cage, cried on him as he refused to eat for 10 dreadful days, read him The New York Times, and promised to teach him to swim, all if he’d come back. And then his blood-test numbers were so bad that everyone agreed it was time to let him go. Except Otter. He did not agree, and even though the syringe was filled and the papers were signed, he leapt up from his spot on the floor and began to bark, and I called the whole thing off.
Slowly he got better, enough at least that the very good internal-medicine specialist at the hospital recommended I bring him home, and get him to eat, and we see where all this might go.
Cut to: A scared, tired, weepy woman in the aisles of a lovely, upscale cooking store.
Another woman comes out from behind the counter and approaches with something more on her mind than the usual “Can I help you?” attitude. I cannot imagine what I look like at this point. On my mind is the fact that Otter has lost 8 of his 77 pounds, and that his recovery will be in my hands.
I’ve read up. He needs a very special diet owing both to a remarkable panel of food allergies he has always possessed, and now, nearly failed kidneys. He will now need to eat small meals, many times each day. Oh, the things I’ve read.
I’m looking at kitchen scales, but the weight of this assignment is whirling in my tired head, and the lovely woman asks me simply, “What do you need to do with this?”
She explains that the high-priced scale has a digital readout that will allow me to assess the total calorie count of what’s being weighed.
“No, no. I don’t need to do that; no,” I say.
“What do you need?” she repeats.
And I don’t want to say it. It’s too weird or obsessive, though somehow it is now something I’ll do. And even though I’ve agreed to do it, I cannot say it, and I stumble, saying, “I never thought I’d say these words aloud. Never.”
“I have to cook for my dog.”
“Oh,” she says. “Is he sick?”
And the story tumbles out, after which she simply touches my forearm and offers: “I have a dog. I’d do the same thing.”
What a kindness. What a great big network of help there is out there in the world, if only we can tell our stories to one another.